"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
June 4, 2014
The Great American Road Trip
by Emily S. Jorgensen

I write this from the passenger seat of my black Kia Sedona minivan (2005). We are currently working our way through Idaho. Yesterday’s travels across arid pastureland and barren nothingland have given way to the green rolling hills outside Boise.

Now we are moving past civilization, passing brown rocky foothills polka-dotted with scruffy little bushy-tree-like plants that seem determined to grow no matter what. I find myself pondering the road trips of my youth.

My father remembers only one family vacation from his childhood. He was determined his children would remember many more. So, we took a lot of road trips.

When I think back to those trips, I remember how seatbelts were optional. My sisters and I would take turns lying down between the seats of the bug-like Toyota minivan, across the rolled-up sleeping bags nestled tightly across the floor. It was by far the most coveted position, and there was no small argument surrounding it at any given moment.

I remember traveling to Utah, feeling like it was a pilgrimage to the seat of my religion, and visiting Temple Square. It was amazing to be around so many of my faith.

I remember my grandparents in Brigham City. I remember visiting my grandpa’s mom-and-pop pharmacy, and my grandpa letting me pick out a Jolly Rancher candy stick. I remember swinging on the ancient swing set in the shade of grandma’s backyard cherry tree. I remember sleeping on a feather pillow for the first time in my life up in the attic room of my grandparents’ house.

I remember how challenging it was to put up tents when we arrived at a campground after dark, because my dad wanted to get as far as possible that day so we would arrive at our destination sooner the next. We rarely knew when or where we would bed down for the night until a helpful sign on the interstate informed us there was a KOA just ahead.

I remember Yellowstone, Disneyland, Crater Lake, Mt. Rainier, Ocean Shores, Castle Rock, the Olympic National Forest (did you know that it’s a rain forest? It is).

Many things are different for my children on this trip than they were for me back then. The only portable electronic that existed then was the Walkman. Now one of my children is watching a DVD on a portable DVD player, while another is playing Angry Birds on my husband’s tablet. Still another is watching a PBS show I downloaded to my tablet. One is reading a book.

I feel too old to deal with tents and air mattresses, so we stay in hotels I booked several weeks ago online. Nothing is ever closed on Sunday anymore, so we don’t have to worry about finding ourselves out of gas if we travel on the Sabbath (yes I feel like a sinner when I do this).

Our maps are always up-to-date because we just printed them out last night, complete with estimated travel times and step-by-step directions. And if we get into trouble, help is usually only a cellphone call away.

But some things haven’t changed. Children still ask “how much longer?” when it has only been 30 minutes into the day’s driving.

Despite having electronic entertainment at their fingertips that a child from my generation thought was only in science fiction novels, today’s 8-year-old can still claim to be bored.

There is still nothing at all to see in Nevada.

It is still astonishing how many bugs hit your windshield at 70 miles per hour.

Dads still grumble about the price of gas being “so high” when the price difference between stations on the road and those at home is about 3 cents per gallon.

Sandwiches and fruit from the big red cooler in the back still taste really great when the car is hot and stuffy and you get out to stretch your legs at a rest area.

So far, I have already learned a lot on this trip. Port-a-potties smell much better than they used to. Idaho actually has some really beautiful vistas (surprisingly, it is not all just cows and potatoes as was my previous impression).

The alphabet game can now be accomplished in about 15 minutes, thanks to all the various signs and billboards that dot the modern interstate. If you want your children well-rested for the next day of travel, don’t let them talk you into having their own hotel room. Rest areas are one of America’s greatest inventions.

Perhaps the best part, the reason I think the Great American Road Trip is a tradition worth preserving, is the hours of forced togetherness. In today’s busy world of overscheduled children and overstressed parents, how often do we spend 10 hours straight in the same room as our children?

Although I do not miss sleeping in tents, I miss the shared misery in working together as a family to put them up as fast as we could in the rain. It made for great stories later.

I love seeing all my family together in one place doing something — anything. With all our other engagements in our regular life, it seems like we must fight to carve away that kind of time.

That fight feels a bit easier on the road — it can’t really be rushed (at least no more than five miles over the speed limit). Offenses pop up quickly, but so do apologies. Joy is found in little things — horses out the right window; a rainbow on the left. Oh my gosh, there’s still snow at the top of the mountain up ahead!

I’ll take the port-a-potties, the crummy fast food, the stuffy heat and the odd smell developing from an old diaper that dropped somewhere within the recesses of the over-packed car. Because, eight days undivided with my family is worth it (even the time spent in Nevada).

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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